The oldest student

I’m not really that old. I just turned 37 the other week. But in my MA program, I’m the oldest. There are three others doing the same program as me and they’re all much younger. Like 10 to 15 years younger! At first I found it a little confronting. I’ve done a lot since I finished my undergraduate degree 14 years ago. I’ve worked and lived in other countries, I’ve even done another degree. But still, I’m the oldest, I have kids, I live 40km out of the city… It’s not easy.

But it wasn’t long, however, before I realised I was so much better equipped than these kids are to be doing a masters. That’s not to say I think anyone’s going to drop out, that they’re too young or whatever. I just want to acknowledge my gratitude to be the age I am. I have so much more knowledge, I’ve been places and done things and although I have a lot more going on with two little kids, I manage to do the required reading when others just haven’t the stamina. Not just that, I can apply myself and come up with intelligent remarks.

When I began my undergraduate degree in 1997, it was in a BA (Visual) specialising in textiles. I got in on a whim, having spoilt any chance of getting into any uni program based on grades, as I barely achieved a pass in my year 12 results. This was because I lacked focus, discipline and confidence, and I cut my nose off to spite my face in a way when I deliberately didn’t apply myself to my studies because I didn’t believe studying maths or science should be part of getting a suitable grade to get into arts at uni. I think I ended up with a 52. But I put together some half-assed portfolio of artwork I had done through high school and, by some miracle, was offered a place at art school. I had no idea at the time but this wasn’t just any art school; it was one of the foremost art schools in the country with an extremely high reputation at the time (I don’t think this is still the case). I still don’t really know how I got in, given I got one of seven places in a field of 135 applicants. Ultimately I never questioned it but who knows, perhaps I wasn’t a total fraud; perhaps I actually showed some talent!

After six months of, admittedly, mostly enjoyable foundation studies courses, I began to realise I didn’t want to be a “starving artist”. I didn’t have quite the passion of some (and genuine eccentricity of others!) I needed to do something a little more academic. Having said that, the most academic subject I studied at art school was Art Theory and it was the one I found most difficult. I didn’t do particularly well in that, having to write some essay on post-colonialism, if memory serves, in which I demonstrated practices I would employ throughout my undergraduate studies that guaranteed shit marks. Things like waffling on about something in a giant paragraph when I could have said it in one sentence and then not referencing because it was “just what I think”. Read: I did zero reading whatsoever and I’m winging it using flowery language and correct spelling.

Anyway, I received a distinction at the end of that first year of visual arts, which my mum still goes on about. But it wasn’t for me. Luckily, due to the prestige of the school, I suppose, it was actually part of the university, arguably the most well-respected university in Australia (it ranks about number 19 in the world now I think), and because I’d completed my first year I just transferred to do a straight BA, with some status credits tacked on from that Visual Arts year. I enrolled in the expected three courses: English, Italian and History. Introduction to the Study of Literature, Introductory Italian (I was placed in the intermediate class but quickly dropped back when I couldn’t understand anything in my first class), and Culture and Society in Britain and France: 1750-1850. Oh history! I think I’d heard of the French Revolution at the tender age of 19 after visiting Madame Tussauds in London and seeing the Madame Guillotine waxwork in the Chamber of Horrors. I’d never heard of the Industrial Revolution. Ha. I was so naive!

I barely passed that year-long unit of history (I think the tutor was very generous), and I quickly transferred out and into linguistics which suited me better. I still wrote essays containing no referencing that were basically just stories about what I thought on a certain topic but I somehow got through and got top marks in Italian so that ended up being what I went on to do in this program. To be honest, I’m not hugely passionate about Italian per se, I don’t really know much of the literature or history, although I’m learning a huge amount through this course, but one thing I’ve discovered is that I know what interests me and what I’d like to continue doing, so I have my Italian studies to thank for that. As an all-rounder, it’s not easy to find your passion.

And why did I enrol to do Italian back in 1998? Because I’d studied it in high school and I knew languages came easily to me. When I was choosing electives in my first year of high school it was a toss up between Spanish or Italian and I chose the latter simply because that’s what my best friend had chosen. “It’s a bludge,” she said. That’s all I needed to hear. Laziness was what I was all about, getting the best results for the least about of work. I look back and I can’t believe this was my attitude! That stubborn, lazy aspect of me did me no favours. I only hope I can instil something different in my own kids. Not that you must slog your guts out, but that it’s good to strive for something and feel passionate. It’s self-discipline that I learnt the hard way, and am still learning in fact. The difference is, learning is pure pleasure and it’s ironic that now, when I have the least amount of time available to devote to it, I’m finding so much enjoyment in it! And speaking of which, it’s time to stop this procrastinating and get back to it.

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The mountain

The reality of the mountain of work I have ahead of me has really hit. How I will get through this, I have no idea. It is utterly overwhelming, no matter how much I attempt to break it down into manageable chunks or schedule it.

There are a few things that are adversely affecting things here, and I’m going to be brutally honest here. One, we are feeling a bit homesick. I don’t think I expected to feel this way. I have lived overseas before, learnt how to be adaptable and deal with change. But this is harder than I thought. Lots of the things we came here for are within reach – the lovely seasons, the traditions, feeling more at the centre of things. But I’m not sure if those things are enough. It’s not been long enough, only two months, so time will tell.

Two, I really want to be with my children. I feel like I’m depriving them of the best kind of childhood, where mummy is always there. I’m not and it’s not feeling good. The Dude has been going to school full time and yes, he can handle it, but he isn’t enjoying it as much as he should be. I don’t think much of the school either. In fact some aspects of Canadian parenting are pissing me off a bit at the moment, but that’s another blog post. Thumper is happy enough in daycare and I like her carer a lot, she is a kind and lovely person. But no substitute for mummy.

And three, I don’t really want to be studying Italian. I can struggle through it but it’s really not something I’m completely passionate about. I’m super glad I didn’t do French as I really don’t like it at all but to Italian I kind of feel a bit indifferent. I enjoy a chat in Italian but I don’t want to specialise in the language or its literature or culture. Surely there must be a way to focus my study more on what I like despite the context of Italian Studies. I think the Italians are pissing me off a bit too. I hate how formal and abrupt and arrogant they can be. They are not warm, they are strict. Not bad people, nice people, just not culturally my cup of tea. I’m not Italian and I don’t want to be.

So why are we here and what am I going to do? There’s really only a single answer to these questions: see it through. We’re here to see this thing through to the end and when I’m finished the requirements in April/May we’ll see where we are. Probably broke and uncertain, that’ll be where we are. But at least I’ll have some new career prospects. I need to focus on not feeling disillusioned and hopeless and just get this thing done!

Hard

I’ve never heard this music before but my dad has recommended it and the artist is Italian so it’s fitting. I plug my free Apple earphones into my broken Samsung and hit shuffle. Within moments of hearing the opening bars there are tears in my eyes and for once I’m grateful for my vision being obscured by my child-scratched sunglasses. It’s piano, reminds me a bit of Michael Nyman and I remember the story my friend K told me about him propositioning her one late night in London.

This MA study, it’s hard, in all respects. It may even be one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced to date. The work is hard, the commute is long and complicated, and I feel totally conflicted about leaving my kids, neither of whom like being without me.

This music is my soundtrack now. Ludovico Enaudi. If I have another child, I think I’ll call him Ludo. Or maybe that’ll be a good name for a family dog. I won’t forget what this music has done for me. Although damn it, stop with the tears already!

I wrote this on the third day of my first week at uni. I was sitting on the bus at 8:15am having just forced my protesting 13-month-old into the arms of a lovely stranger while I put myself through the torture of a complex class conducted all in Italian. I think in those early days I understood about a quarter of what was said, if that, and what made it worse was that the other three members of the class understood everything.
At this point I’d been to five of my six classes and I was feeling overwhelmed. And to top it off, other than Thumper’s separation anxiety, the Dude was having huge meltdowns about catching the school bus and Mr Chewbacca had just messaged me saying he was almost in tears too at having to take Dude to school against his will because he’d point blank refused to get on the bus.
Looking back, yes, it was hard. But we’ve moved on now. That first week, wow, I’ll never forget it. And I’m glad I wrote this as it reminds me just how easy I have it now in comparison.